The Talaandig of Bukidnon: Avatars of Nuance and Grace
by Marian Pastor Roces
Quietly excited, one and then another of the women took out a cell phone and took photos of the blown up photos we brought. The cellphone used as magnifying lens, the women figured out techniques deployed by their antecedents to realize exceptional intricacy.
They are now in their 60s to 80s (I belong to the age group) except for Aduna Lleses Saway, who leads the School of Living Traditions (SLT) of their Talaandig community of Songco, Lantapan, Bukidnon.
The sexa- to nonagenarians examined cultural materials that left their Binukid speaking area in the first decade of the 20th century to reside in Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History and other American museum storages; and a few that were already acquired by Madrid’s Museo Nacional de Antropologia in the late 19th century.
Bai Liza Saway led the long ritual invocation with a firm and uninterrupted delivery that was not rote. It included articulations of what was on-going with us, within her prayer stream. Another woman whom I had only just met, seated to my left, delivered her simultaneous invocation a half beat after Bai Liza’s stream—with a voice maintained at a few decibels lower. Both women together were not so much mesmerizing as calming. The long beginning was longer than the closing ritual.
They recognized all of the pieces in the photographs Dr Cristina Juan brought, in this version of repatriation through relinkings with source communities. The SOAS site Mapping Philippine Material Culture has now extended into these fields of relationships.
I brought Cristina and her husband Jovi to old friends. The decades old relationship includes the experience of bringing 8 Talaandig performance virtuosos to Washington DC’s Smithsonian in 1998 to celebrate the centennial of the declaration of Philippine independence.
The Talaandig contingent led by Datu Datu Migketay Saway Victorino and Waway Linsahay Saway I included Manang Jean, dance master, who is among the most beautiful avatars of nuance and grace I have had the pleasure of meeting. And Datu Vic is among the handful of ritually initiated epic chanters alive in the Philippines.
Manang Jean was there yesterday with Datu Vic, and so it was as though a family reunion. I had not returned as often as I should have but the exceptional smiles throughout the discussions gave the initially digital project a full heart.
It was partcularly happy because Tina was to leave the high quality photographs with them, c/o the SLT.
Waway Saway—whom I invited to Paris to perform as special guest at the launching of the Museo ng Kaalamang Katutubo, a day after the opening of the immense exhibition Archipel des eschanges at the Musee du quay Branly in 2013—was unavailable. He had run as independent for Councilor and won! This density of personal relationships built through time on a shared passion for highly developed art making: I am, at this moment, overwhelmed.
It is good to grow old among people whose understanding of the arts of making and performing are intertwined complexly with the art of maintaining ties among kindred spirit. Before departure, the venerable Manang Jean offered to have the women dance the binanog and the awesome dugso for us. I am tearing up again as I write.
PS. The first of the Saway family I met was Anastasio Saway, Datu Kinulintang. That was in 1987. The father of Datu Vic and Waway was well known among the Manuvu speaking communities as a great epic chanter. He graced the launching of the Museo ng Katutubong Pilipino I had curated the establishment of, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1987.